The Common Ground

Vol. VIII, Issue 12

Nollaig Shona Daoibh agus Athbhliain faoi Mhaise Daoibh

December 2010

 

 

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"IF WE'RE GOING TO PANIC, LET'S GET ORGANIZED ABOUT IT!"

A Message from our President James J. Lamb

Yes, one of those great Irish quips stored in my memory, uttered by Tomas Mac Eochagáin many years ago at a football training session.

 

I couldn’t help but recall that line while reading about the recent turmoil that is the Irish economy, and the general state of affairs on the island of Ireland.  Much has been written and reported through the Irish and international media about Ireland’s rapid descent.  And from all that I can gather, it can be explained with a few simple truths. 

 

For most of the 20th century, the island of Ireland was a relatively poor place that rightly believed education was the key to prosperity for future generations.  Schools and universities produced exceptionally talented young people but could not keep them for lack of industry.  Every year thousands of smart young people left Ireland to find work and establish families in other places around the world.

 

In 1973 both Ireland and the UK joined what was known as the European Economic Community (EEC) – now the European Union (EU).  Ireland, being a poor country, benefitted greatly from membership in the EU.  Funding for infrastructure, better access to other EU member markets, and other benefits brought some economic activity and growth to the twenty-six counties of the Republic of Ireland.  It was around that time that the Irish government introduced a corporation tax rate of ten percent (10%).  Of course throughout the 70s and 80s the war in the North garnered most of the international headlines, and the United Kingdom, Ireland’s largest trade partner was in a serious recession.  But gradually and quietly, Ireland was on the rise.

 

With a talented pool of workers and a low corporate tax, the Irish attracted inward investment from all over the world, especially from the US.  By the mid 1990s, foreign companies were realizing terrific profits while Irish workers brought their families out of poverty.  Some of the world’s greatest companies, like Microsoft, Intel, Dell Computers, and others saw the Irish as a talented, tech-savvy race, able to react and respond rapidly to changes in their respective markets.  Some of Ireland’s most talented young people started spinning out companies of their own from these huge corporations and from the various universities for which Ireland was always renowned.  Meanwhile, on the continent, German and other financial institutions saw this rising, fundamentally sound economy at the edge of Europe.  A young, smart, confident pool of new Irish customers, they thought, would turn sleepy savings accounts of frugal retirees into robust growth opportunities for banks across Europe.  As far as I can tell, that’s when the frenzy started.

 

Almost overnight, Ireland was transformed.  Banks made loans to anyone that wanted one.  Developers borrowed, bought, built and sold, earning huge profits.  From 2003 to 2006 there was virtually zero (0) unemployment.  Developers need construction tradesmen.  Banks needed administrative and financial people.  Hotels and restaurants were lucky to find workers from Poland and other Eastern European states.  Inflation went out of control.  Real estate prices rose exponentially.  Government regulators and elected politicians turned a blind eye and, along with the banks, pretended that everything was just fine.

 

Well, it WASN’T fine.  The knowledge-based economy that emerged during the late nineties was replaced by a greed-driven false economy shortly after the turn of the century.  Steady economic growth was exploited by slick salesmen who encouraged a rising nation to demand more than they could afford. 

 

By the time the European Central Bank and the EU member countries realized what was going on, it was too late.  The economy had tanked.  The Irish government, in spite of its promises, could not save the banks that made so many bad loans.  There was, according to most observers, no other option but to take a bail out from the EU and the International Monetary Fund.

 

So here we are, Christmas, 2010.  The government has slashed payrolls and public services.  The cost of borrowing from Irish banks now is higher than anywhere in Europe.  Unemployment is nearly fourteen percent (14%).  The panic is on.  The people of Ireland feel betrayed.  Their government let them down terribly.  And the government knows that.  There will be protests, pointing of fingers, and blame coming from all corners of Irish society.  Things could get ugly.

 

That said, I have a lot of confidence in Ireland’s capacity to rise again.  Ireland still produces quality graduates at both secondary and third level.  And in spite of pressure from the EU, the government is holding its ground on retaining a low corporate tax rate.   I expect there will be a serious cleansing at Leinster House in the next few months.  Whoever takes control of government then must get organized quickly.  A marketing campaign reminiscent of the 1980s bringing millions (or is it billions) in inward investment to Ireland is in order.  Ireland should sell those assets that smart investors can’t resist: talent and low taxes.  Make it impossible for foreign investors to consider anywhere else.

 

And as Ireland re-emerges as a fundamentally sound, progressive, smart economy, let’s make sure that the slick salesmen don’t fool us a second time.

 

 

References for today's letter:

http://www.learningireland.ie/forum/viewtopic.php?f=37&t=19320&f_title=Schools%20'fail'%20to%20prepare%20students%20for%20life%20or%20work

http://www.nala.ie/literacy-ireland

 

 

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                                                IIP NEWS

Ireland Institute of Pittsburgh

In service to peace

The Irish Castle Vacation Prize Raffle

                                                  

 

The Ireland Institute held its Irish Castle Vacation Prize Drawing on Monday, December 13, 2010 at the Harp and Fiddle. 

 

 Congratulations to the winner, Deb Powell!!! 

 

The event was very well attended with Hooley and Guaranteed Irish providing the musical entertainment ably supported by Marie Young (telling the story of Christmas through both English and Irish). We'd like to thank everyone that made it down to the Harp & Fiddle for your support despite of the snow and a special thanks to everyone that helped us make the evening a success.  

 

 

 

 

 NEWS

 

 

 

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EUROZONE AGREES  €85 BILLION DEAL FOR IRELAND 

 


The EU and the Government have announced they have agreed that Ireland will be provided with €85 billion in financial support. 

Chair of the Eurogroup Jean Claude Junker said that the €85bn being made available to Ireland includes €10bn for recapitalisation of the banks, €25bn for banking contingencies and €50bn for budgetary financing needs.

The Government said in a statement that the State's contribution to the facility will be €17.5 billion, which will come from the National Pension Reserve Fund and other domestic cash resources.

The statement said that if the funds are drawn down in total today, the combined annual average interest rate would be of the order of 5.8% per annum.  Strong reaction to interest rate.  The rate will vary according to the timing of the draw down and market conditions.

The Minister for Finance has said the interest rate that Ireland will be paying would be the same as that for Greece if they had gone for a seven and a half year loan period.

Brian Lenihan said Greece was currently on a lower rate of interest because they had gone for a three year loan period and are now facing a funding crisis at the end of that period.  He said the longer period ensures we will experience no funding crisis at the end of our term.

The Minister also said that subordinated bondholders would be dealt with aggressively but said the European partners had ruled out making senior bondholders pay as it would have a spill over effect on the euro.

The Taoiseach said the loans would allow Ireland to fund budgets over the coming years.  He said the program represents a very large increase in our national debt over the course of this unprecedented economic crisis and this must be addressed over time.

Nevertheless, he said, we believe it is sustainable if we fully implement the national recovery plan.  The duration of the program is for three years while the average length of the loans is up to seven and a half years.

Mr. Cowen said this was money the country would otherwise have got from the markets, but it would have been at higher prices.  He repeated that the four-year plan stood but the extended 2015 target for deficit reduction simply allowed for some scope if growth did not reach targets.

The Taoiseach said that the remaining €17.5bn in the program will be funded from Ireland's own resources and that this approach was reasonable in the context of such large loans from other countries and as a means of reducing the total amount of debt involved.

He said that crucially for Irish jobs the agreed program does not involve any change to our corporation tax rate of 12.5%.

In addition, he said, Ireland has obtained more room for manoeuvre by agreeing with the European Commission that the timeframe for reducing the deficit below 3% of GDP can be extended to 2015 if the four-year adjustment of €15bn proves insufficient. This programme, he said, is absolutely essential for the country.

Mr Cowen said the Government's agreement to it follows very involved and tough negotiations over recent days.  The Taoiseach said the Government estimates that the debt ratio will stabilise in 2013 and that interest payments would represent over 20% of tax revenue in 2014. 

Of the total package €35bn is to be used to support the banking system. Of that €10bn will be used immediately to inject fresh capital as a buffer against expected loan losses.  The remaining €25bn will be made available as a contingency fund, effectively a massive overdraft facility, to be drawn down by the banks as and when required.

IMF mission chief Ajai Chopra said the financial aid negotiations had included talks on a 'deeply discounted' purchase of certain debts owed to bondholders by AIB and Bank Of Ireland.  He said this would be similar to the ongoing exercise at Anglo Irish Bank where the holders of subordinated debt have been offered 20 cent for every euro owed to them thus writing off 80% of that class of bond debt.  Mr Chopra said that was the only provision in the programme on the issue of bondholders sharing some of the cost of the rescue deal.  He also described the National Pension Reserve Fund element of the deal as 'unique' in this type of negotiation.  He said the fact that Ireland had such a 'cash buffer' was a sign of 'underlying strength' in the Irish economy.

ECB representative Klaus Masuch also confirmed that the 5.8% average annual interest rate for the funds to be supplied to Ireland 'does not include the IMF contribution'.

President of the European Central Bank Jean-Claude Trichet welcomed the package for Ireland saying it contained the necessary elements for the sustainable stabilisation of the Irish economy.

EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said the plan was 'endorsed' by all 27 European Union finance ministers.  He said the senior debt of bondholders will not be involved in the Irish programme.  Mr Rehn also said he is aware that the Irish authorities are considering certain discounts for the subordinated debt, but there will be no haircut on senior debt.  Mr Rehn said it is absolutely essential that every EU member state should complete the financial repair of their banking systems. He said this is well under way and that bank stress tests, which were conducted this summer on the basis of vigorous common methodology, need to repeated next year.

The Commissioner said that Ireland will undergo a vigorous bank stress test during the first quarter of next year.  IMF chief Dominique Struass-Kahn confirmed that the Fund will contribute €22.5bn to Ireland's bailout, and said it is likely to be approved by the IMF board in December.

'The strategy for the financial system rests on twin pillars: deleveraging and reorganization; and ample capitalization,' Mr Strauss-Kahn said in a statement. 'A fundamental downsizing and reorganization to restore the viability of the system will commence immediately.'

Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan held meetings with his European counterparts in Brussels last night to finalise the negotiations on the deal with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.  The Government had been in intensive discussions with officials from the EU, the IMF and the European Central Bank for more than a week.  The finance ministers are keen to end market uncertainty and prevent the debt crisis from spreading to other eurozone countries, mainly Spain and Portugal.

Meanwhile, Germany and France have reached a deal on a future permanent mechanism for resolving crises in the eurozone and the main points of the agreement are set to be presented.



TRADE UNIONS CALL FOR NATIONAL STRIKE AND CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE 

 

TRADE unions last night called for more protests and national strike action after more than 50,000 people marched through the streets of Dublin to voice their anger over the Government's austerity plans.

Workers' group UNITE said it was planning a "campaign of civil disobedience" ahead of Budget day on December 7, and would reveal its alternative financial strategy for the country this week.

"Saturday's march in Dublin showed that the people of Ireland are not willing to sit cowering in the corner as their future is sold for buttons by a political leadership intent on bailing out an out-of-control banking system," UNITE regional secretary Jimmy Kelly said.

"We're not going to change this Government now, but the only hope is to go beyond marches and protests. We've got to put strike action firmly in place."

The call comes after Socialist MEP Joe Higgins rallied protest members for a 24-hour national strike on Budget day. Mr. Kelly said he would fully support such action, and called on other unions to do the same.

Outside Dublin's GPO, on a bitterly cold Saturday afternoon, actress Ruth McCabe read out the Proclamation of the Irish Republic to the mass of protesters who had made their way there from Wood Quay. 

And the world was listening. Camera crews from news channels across the globe were there reporting.

Heading the marchers were the usual suspects -- far-left groups, union heads (the demonstration was organized by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions) and a handful of radical republican groups.

But at the heart of the protest were ordinary people -- parents with their children, pensioners and young people struggling to find a job.

"Particularly for children, it's important they get a voice over how these big government decisions are being taken," Dubliner Aodh O'Connor said as his three sons Iarla (9), Ruairi (7) and Jack (6) looked over the River Liffey from the icy Ha'penny Bridge.

"My job is relatively secure. I'm a teacher. But I know a lot of people have not got secure jobs. 

"Anyway, it's to do with the future of the country. We're talking about 20 years down the line, so I'm more concerned about that to be honest."

When Enda Roche, a self-employed businesswoman from Donaghmede in Dublin, was asked why she came out, she replied: "It had to be done.

"When I saw the weather this morning I thought to myself: 'Oh my God, How are we even going to get into town?' And yet we have people here from Sligo, Roscommon, Cork, everywhere -- it's just brilliant. 

"I have my own company, but I think this is going to impoverish everybody. We all have to stand together. I realize that this is not just for people in unions, it's for everybody in the whole country."

Among the speakers at the demonstration were some of those most affected by the recession and the four-year plan announced last week -- pensioners, struggling workers and the unemployed.

In a tribute to Joe McNamara, who drove a cement lorry up to the gates of Leinster House last September, musician Christy Moore sang his famous tune 'An Ordinary Man'. 

Perhaps the singer had forgotten the property developer was reportedly at odds with the infamous Anglo Irish Bank over loans of €3.5m.

But SIPTU head Jack O'Connor and ICTU leader David Begg were greeted by a chorus of boos and jeers as they called for the current Government to give up the ghost.

As they spoke of the politicians' failings, cries of "You've sold out" and "You're in bed with them" could be heard from angry protesters on the packed O'Connell Street.

While the heavily guarded main event otherwise went off without a hitch, by 2.30pm a group of 250 protesters moved down to Kildare Street and began throwing bottles, paintballs and eggs at the gardai standing at the front gates of Leinster House.

A poster of Brian Cowen was set alight, but there were no arrests and after around half an hour officers managed to break up the upheaval.


SINN FEIN PRESIDENT GERRY ADAMS HAS ENDED HIS STORMONT CAREER BY PRAISING THE 'REMARKABLE ACHIEVEMENT OF POWER SHARING

 



The West Belfast MLA, 62, is standing as a candidate for Louth in the Republic of Ireland's elections to the Dail next year.

He said when next spring's Stormont elections are held it would be the first time the legislature had survived a full four-year term. But he warned public representatives would be judged on their ability to deliver for ordinary people. "The Assembly is approaching the end of its first full term and that is a remarkable achievement given the difficulties that have had to be overcome," the party leader said. "This Assembly is about delivering for citizens. The island of Ireland is too small for us to be separated forever by an artificial border, most sensible people know this and the Good Friday Agreement recognizes this. "God speed the day when we will be united."

Mr Adams was a central player in the negotiations leading up to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. He has been an MLA for west Belfast since the Assembly was elected in June of that year.

However it took until November 1999 for an Executive to be elected after the intervention of former US Senator George Mitchell. In February 2000 the Assembly was suspended after no deal was struck on decommissioning IRA arms.

Mr Adams led Sinn Fein's court challenge to former Ulster Unionist First Minister David Trimble's ban on the party participating in North/South Ministerial Council meetings.

He was instrumental in helping persuade the IRA to disarm. Following months of talks, in April 2005, he appealed to the IRA to help rebuild the political process and embrace democratic means. In July the IRA formally ordered an end to its armed campaign. In September that year arms decommissioning body head General John de Chastelain said the IRA had put all of its weapons beyond use.

LABOUR'S BURTON SAYS IREALND IS 'BANJAXED'

Speaking on RTÉ's Six One News, Ms Burton said Ireland was 'banjaxed'.

She said the European and international negotiators played much better poker than the Irish negotiators and 'we are being asked to put up front ... all the assets we have as a country.'

Ms Burton said when our cash reserves have been exhausted, then 'the trap has closed on Ireland and we are banjaxed'. She said the EU and IMF had Ireland 'where they wanted us'.

The party's leader Eamon Gilmore described the rescue package as a sell out of the Irish taxpayer.  He said the EU and IMF had walked over a weak Government and that the deal had saddled Irish tax payers with a debt that is not sustainable.

Mr Gilmore said the use of the National Pension Reserve Fund would short change pensioners of the future and he said the extension of the deadline for deficit reduction shows that the Government are not confident that the deal will work.

Fine Gael Finance Spokesperson Michael Noonan said the Opposition had been made aware that a contribution would come out of the National Pension Reserve Fund. He said that this was at least money that 'we won't have to be borrowing elsewhere'.  Mr Noonan said the deal was as expected but said the interest rate was too high.

Speaking on Six One News he said it was a 'peculiar arrangement where there's a subsidiary fund against losses attached to this - so to get €100 you can use, you must borrow €120 and pay interest on the lot.'  He said there was a sort of incentive built into pitching the rate so high and it would force Ireland back into the bond market.

In a statement issued this evening, he said: 'The Government has been out-bid and out-negotiated at every turn. For some reason the Government decided to play it soft, and allowed the IMF, the EU and the ECB to win hands down.'

Employers' group IBEC said the 5.8% interest rate is very high and will cost about €5 billion per annum.

Danny McCoy said we must now get the economy growing fast and seize upon labour market reforms in the proposal to get as many people as possible back to work and help pay off this debt.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said the Government had negotiated a terrible deal.  He said the 5.8% interest rate is unaffordable and described as a disaster the decision to take money out of the Pensions Reserve Fund 'to pour into black hole that is our banking system'.

The party's Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the deal 'condemns this and future generations of Irish people to economic bondage for many years to come'.

ICTU General Secretary David Begg said the interest rate is penal and unnecessarily high and our European friends have done us no favours in that respect.

He said labour reforms in the package are a euphemism for reducing the minimum wage, which he said was not justified and that he and will colleagues will fight it.

SIPTU General Secretary Jack O'Connor said the agreement is a shameful indictment of the right-wing policies which have informed the Government's approach for the last 13 years.

Mr O'Connor said the deal meant senior bank bondholders are to be protected, while the lowest paid and those most vulnerable people dependent on public provision are to be crucified.  'The plan unveiled today should have been announced in Lourdes because, short of a miracle, it is doomed to failure', he said.

Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan welcomed the deal saying the support of the European Commission, ECB and the IMF underpins a clear economic and financial policy path for Ireland.  He said the programme endorses the current policy approach to banking and provides the necessary assurance to achieve a convincing and rapid reconfiguration and downsizing of the banks.


THOUSANDS MARCH AGAINST AUSTERIY MEASURES

A crowd of up to 50,000 people have marched in protest against the introduction of spending cuts and tax increases by the Government.

Gardaí said that around 10,000 people started the march, however the crowd swelled to around 50,000 people as it moved down the quays.  Speakers at the march had estimated that the crowd was between 100,000 and 150,000.  A small group of around 400 protestors gathered outside Leinster House after the main rally had ended.

Bangers were lit and thrown among the gardaí along with snowballs and eggs. Some of the protestors were wearing masks and a poster with a picture of Brian Cowen on it was set on fire.  Kildare Street was closed to traffic for a short while, but many of the protestors have now left and the street has been re-opened.

Gardaí said no arrests were made.  The earlier protest on O'Connell Street was organized by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, which maintains the austerity measures are unfair and too harsh.

ICTU General Secretary David Begg said nobody could believe that the country could afford to pay 6.7% interest to pay for money that Ireland did not want to bailout the banks. Other speakers included SIPTU President Jack O'Connor, while singers Christy Moore and Frances Black performed.

Mr. O'Connor said people had turned out to assert the rights of the citizens of Ireland to decide the future of Ireland. 

Journalist and author Fintan O'Toole told the marchers that people had gathered outside the GPO to reclaim a sense of citizenship.

He said that as the fate of our country is being decided, it is a case of mind over matter. 'They don't mind, and we don't matter. Our rulers have no shame, and they believe we have no voice,' said Mr O'Toole.

Marchers assembled behind the banners of their unions, including SIPTU, IMPACT, UNITE, TUI and TEEU. Other groups taking part in the march include the new United Left Alliance.  March organizers provided whistles to many of the demonstrators to use as a way to protest.

Three demonstrators took to the Liffey in a curragh and flew banners in support of the marchers.  As the main march came to a close, an alliance of left-wing groups assembled at the O'Connell monument.

They were addressed by speakers including Cllr Richard Boyd Barrett, Cllr Louise Minihan and MEP Joe Higgins.
Mr. Higgins said the bills of bankers and developers are being handed to the Irish working class and he called for a nationwide strike to say we will not pay.  Mr. Boyd Barrett called for people to 'lay siege' to the Dáil on Budget day and to demand their unions embark on a general strike.

Gardaí said the protest passed off peacefully.  Chambers Ireland stressed that Dublin city centre would be open to business, but warned the march would do nothing to maintain jobs.


RELIGION IN SCHOOLS 'A BREACH OF CHILDREN'S HUMAN RIGHTS'

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THE central role of religion in the overwhelming majority of Irish schools may be a breach of the human rights of some children.

And allowing pupils from minority faiths or none to opt out of religious instruction may not be enough to rectify the situation because the Catholic Church's ethos permeates the day-to-day life of most schools, a discussion paper has said.

The Government has been told it is time to address what place, if any, religion has in the classroom.

Ireland's record on religion in schools will come under scrutiny next year during a review by the United Nations Human Rights Council. 

The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHCR) issued a discussion paper over the weekend, posing a number of questions as to whether the law and practice in Ireland fully meets human rights standards.

"To put it somewhat baldly, the core issue to be discussed concerns whether religion has a place in the classroom and, if so, what role should it play," IHCR president Maurice Manning said.

He said the Irish position faced challenges under the European Convention on Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The questions raised by the discussion paper included the rights of children in a rural setting who have no option but to attend a religious-ethos school.

At primary level, Catholic schools are required to devote two-and-a-half hours per week to religious instruction, while it is two hours per week at secondary level.

In the multi-denominational Educate Together schools, the issue of religious instruction is regarded as a matter for parents and, where it takes place, it is done outside of school hours.

Pupils may take Religious Education as a subject in Junior and Leaving Cert exams, but that involves a general study of world religions and beliefs and does not involve an assessment of a student's personal faith or commitment.

The IHCR paper notes that provision is made for the right of parents to withdraw their children from any instruction that conflicts with their own convictions.

However, because of the way that religion might informally permeate the school day in denominational schools, this right would not necessarily insulate such pupils from receiving religious education informally, it stated.

Dr Manning said the place of religion in the classroom was an issue with which all countries were grappling, but Ireland was somewhat unique internationally because religious orders had played a very prominent role in Irish education.

Ireland has a system of almost entirely denominational primary education, predominantly controlled by the Catholic Church, which runs about 92pc of primary schools. There are no non-denominational schools, and just over 2pc of schools are inter-denominational or multi-denominational.

While most people in Ireland define themselves as belonging to the Roman Catholic Church or Church of Ireland, a significant number now define themselves as being of no belief or of Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or other belief.

The paper was launched at a conference held in association with the School of Law at Trinity College Dublin, which kick-started a national consultation process.

Dr Manning said after the consultation process was complete, at the end of January, they would make recommendations to the Government on the measures required for the State to meet its human rights obligations in this area.

 

 

 

 

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'THE GREATEST LITTLE PUB IN THE WORLD' -- AND ITS MY LOCAL!

It may have evaded our collective attention as our sovereignty teetered on the brink of destruction, but The Harbour Bar in Bray -- my own local since I was, um, 18 -- has just been named the World's Best Pub by the international travel bible itself, Lonely Planet. 

In a week where the Vintners' Federation of Ireland bemoaned the loss of a thirsty generation to stay-at-home drinking and naggins smuggled into nightclubs, the news seemed somewhat jarring to me. Surely if this land can produce the best watering hole in the known universe, more of my youthful peers could be enticed to have a poured pint rather than drinking from a can -- as an occasional treat, at least. That's easy for me to say, though, having been reared on Bray's finest. 

The O'Tooles, who have run the bar for six generations, are universally known in a town that often feels too big to have a community spirit any more. 

Located at the end of the famous promenade -- the town's most popular route for evening strollers and weekend walkers -- their bar serves as the perfect venue to warm up and grab a pint after exposing yourself to the elements. The conservatory cozily rattles under rainfall, the tunes are chilled (while the Guinness thankfully isn't) and it doesn't take long to become recognized as a regular. 

"Any good bar should be a home from home, serve a great range of drinks and most of all offer a friendly welcome to all who visit," says Lonely Planet writer and spokesperson Tom Hall. "The Harbour Bar fits the bill to a tee, and it's really refreshing to see somewhere we hadn't celebrated before come to the fore to win this. "I hope they buy me a pint next time I'm in town." 

But if it all sounds like Hollywood perfection, well, it isn't. The bar has been criticized as grubby, in need of a new set of sofas and so loaded up with knick-knacks that you can barely see the walls -- but then, it manages to encapsulate the wonderful thing about a top local: even the unlikable aspects manage to charm you into submission. 

True, it's your companions who ultimately make the magic, but any top establishment has to meet the punters halfway -- so here are 10 of the must-haves for a quintessential quaffing experience. 

Closing customs 

While there's a simplistic romance to flicking the lights on and off, the best joints will go a step further and have a song, or a distinct noise (vuvuzela, anyone?), to alert their customers that the time has come to rush the bar waving five-euro notes. A closing tune can embed itself in the minds of regulars, in the same way as a kid's TV theme tune or 'your song' with your first-ever girlfriend. Flicking the lights is fine, of course. Giving no indication at all is a contemptuous no-no. 

Tiny Tunes 

On the subject of tunes, this is an obviously crucial point. However, it's not so much the music that's played as the volume it's played at. I have never met a single person -- nope, not one, ever -- who enjoys having to raise their voice as they settle in for a post-work pint at 5.30 of a Tuesday. It's impossible to nail the choice of material, because everyone's tastes are different, but the volume is something we can all agree on.  Better to play rubbish down low than gold at full blast, and if that's fogeyish of me then cart me off to a home right now. Crucial. 

Lights down low 

Like music, it's a matter of balance -- but if in doubt, turn it down. Otherwise-perfect bars have their ambience ruined entirely by coastguard spotlights beaming down vertically from the ceiling, highlighting every blemish in our surroundings (and our companions). We don't come to these places to look, we come to listen -- so turn it down. Turn everything down, I say! 

Service with a... smile? 

We all know that what happens in the pub stays in the pub, but a lesser-known fact is that the opposite is also true. A local barman will know your name, acknowledge you upon arrival and pour your order regardless of what qualms you've shared in the outside world. Dumped his daughter and run over his cat (or vice versa)? Doesn't matter. And while he may hit you with a stare of unbridled hatred as you wait in awkward silence for your Guinness to settle, the important thing is you still get your pint. Now that's service. 

Filthy fittings 

The market for stained, grimy upholstery hasn't developed to the point where IKEA have introduced a range. But in this parallel universe, different rules apply.  A weathered, dirty sofa has borne witness to generations of bums, each connected to a person who chose to come and socialise in this spot. Squeaky clean means sterile and emotionless. 

Words of the prophets. . . 

As above, a scribbled-up wall carries the voices of all those who went before. Well, all those who had the foresight to bring a marker to the loo. The only reason a cubicle should be painted over is to clear the canvas for more witty comments, urban poetry and... well, rude drawings. 

Two out of three ain't bad, I suppose. 

What to do. . . 

Activities and gimmicks need to range beyond the horrors of karaoke, to open-mic comedy, board games, movie nights, trad sessions, storytelling evenings and whatever you're having yourself. 

For all the beauty of sitting with a pint and chewing the fat of the week gone by, it's nice to mix things up the odd time. The Harbour Bar has all of these things -- but crucially it's also built in several sections. So if you don't want to listen to the witty observations of a first-time funnyman, you can take your pint elsewhere to escape. 

Take it outside... 

I'm not a smoker, but even my clear-lunged companions will agree that there's no better escape on a rowdy night than a sheltered, heated patio. Even the most calm establishment will reach fever pitch at some point in the week, and that's when you need your Plan B. 

Small-screen hero 

A good local is incompatible with sport, as that requires a large screen which will dominate the room if switched on for any other purpose.  A small telly, mounted up in the corner since colour broadcasting was a novelty, is perfect for sticking on the news, or gathering around intently to watch seismic moments of national interest -- like Mary's progess in The X Factor results show 

My Goodness. . . 

It's a cliché, yes, but for some reason Guinness will forever be used as the ultimate benchmark in quality.  There is an inexplicable link between the homeliness of a place and the character of its stout -- what the quality team would deem a champion pint is often overchilled and flat-tasting. 

As with everything else, the beauty is in the imperfection.

IRELAND STILL SEEN AS EXPENSIVE

TV presenter and archaeologist Neil Oliver has said there is still a perception that Ireland is an expensive country to visit which may be a legacy of the Celtic Tiger.

Oliver, a guest at Fáilte Ireland’s annual conference, said the perception was there “right or wrong” and outsiders still remember that Irish people used to moan about house prices and there was a feeling that you would “not get good bang for your buck”.

The presenter of BBC’s hugely popular Coast series confessed that he had not been to Ireland until 2005, but since then has come 20 or 30 times both to film for the series and for personal reasons.

He cited spending a day currach racing in Kilkee, Co Clare, as the highlight of all his time filming Coast which attracts an average of three million viewers a week in the UK and is regularly re-broadcast.

He spoke in warm terms about Ireland, saying it was a “special place” being an island long before Britain became one.

“I expected Ireland to be soft and green and pleasant. I hadn’t expected the jaw-dropping spectacle of standing on the cliffs of Inishmore and watching these waves that had not touched land for 2,500 miles and breaking on the cliffs. That is an experience I will never forget,” he said.

Oliver, an archaeologist and historian before becoming a television presenter, said the Brú na Bóinne site is one of the great archaeological sites in Europe and Irish people should take consolation from their history and the “fact that Ireland has always been there”.

“If you don’t have history you are living your life like a page on a novel and you don’t understand where the characters are at,” he said.

Fáilte Ireland chief executive Shaun Quinn said the Irish tourism industry needed to “relentlessly hammer the message home” that the country was not an expensive destination anymore, a perception which he confessed had built up during the Celtic Tiger years.

The well-known travel writer and restaurant critic AA Gill told the conference that Ireland’s greatest strength was the character of its people and it could not expect to compete with hot countries in terms of tourism infrastructure.

He also raised guffaws of laughter saying that the Irish were renowned for their hospitality, “it is what you do”, but were “s***” with money.


TRAVEL TAX TO CUT OR DROPPED AS AIRLINES APPLY PRESSURE 



The controversial €10 travel tax will either be axed or reduced in tomorrow's budget. 

The tax breaches European rules and the Government has also come under pressure from airlines and the tourism industry to remove it.  Negotiations have been ongoing between the Government and airlines ahead of the budget.

Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin has met Aer Lingus boss Christoph Mueller and Ryanair's deputy chief Michael Cawley in recent weeks to discuss the tax which they believe has contributed to the recent fall in tourists flying here.

The tax also breaches European Commission rules because two rates apply here -- €10 for flights from Ireland further than 300km and €2 for shorter trips to parts of Britan and internal flights. Under EU rules a flat rate has to apply but the tax can also be ditched. 

Government sources confirmed yesterday that Finance Minister Brian Lenihan will announce either a scrapping of the tax or a reduction. Recent tourism figures show 858,600 fewer visitors came to Ireland in the first nine months of the year.

The annual decline from Britain, Ireland's largest market, was 456,100, and there was also a drop in our second largest market, the European continent, of 336,600 or 17pc. The tax has also been a disappointment for the Government. 

While it was originally expected to yield €125m a year, the forecast for 2010 is closer to €100m.  Ryanair welcomed the move yesterday but added that airport charges should also be cut in a further bid to entice tourists.

"This is about Ireland being competitive and we have promised to increase passenger numbers to Ireland by six million in return for a scrapping of the tax," said Stephen McNamara, Ryanair communications manager.  Ryanair is also calling for the sale of Cork and Shannon Airports and the sell-off of terminals one and two at Dublin Airport.


DUBLIN ZOO IN SEARCH OF NAME FOR BABY GIRAFFE

Dublin Zoo's latest arrival, a baby Rothschild giraffe
Dublin Zoo’s latest arrival, a Rothschild giraffe, has made her debut to the Dublin public and now the zoo is asking the public for their help in naming her.

The unnamed giraffe was born a month ago and already measures two meters and weighs 40 kgs.

You can suggest names for the giraffe on Dublin Zoo’s Facebook page or email them or write a letter. The Zoo says that it would like her name to reflect her African origins. On the other hand her mother is called Maeve, which sounds more Irish than African!

So far some suggestions on Facebook include Molly, Lulu, Halle, Rachael, Dora and Cailin. Other’s who followed the zoo’s orders have come up with Zulu, Sahara, Ashanti, Rafiki, Leele (tall in Setswana), Jambo (Swahili for freedom) and Afric.

The giraffe’s keeper, Helen Clarke-Bennet spoke to the Irish Times about the new giraffe. She said that when she finally made it outside she stayed “very steady” but never moved away from her mother.

She said “The calf is doing well and we are delighted to see her first-time mum is being very attentive and is nurturing her new born with great care." 

 

 

SPORTS

 

 

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                                           NEW GENERATION OF GOLDEN BOYS

 

 

 

WELCOME TO the new generation. There was gold in them boys – that was always the prospect – but to unearth it so brilliantly down in the Algarve, and win Ireland’s first gold medal at the European Cross Country since the inaugural event 16 years ago, is something the sport and perhaps the whole country needed right now.

 

In the end they did it with a bit of style too: the men’s under-23 team of David McCarthy, Brendan O’Neill, Michael Mulhare, David Rooney, John Coghlan and Ciarán Ó Lionáird all knew they needed to run to maximum potential to secure a medal of any color, and most of them did exactly that. So the European title was theirs, with 18 points to spare over France, leaving Spain third, and Great Britain fourth.

 

All four team scorers – McCarthy, O’Neill, Mulhare and Rooney – finished in the top 20, and for a long time McCarthy was also challenging for an individual medal. He lost some ground towards the end of the 8km race, and finished up 11th, but with O’Neill in 13th, Mulhare in 16th and Rooney in 20th, their team total of 60 points ensured they were well safe for the title, even before the calculators were taken out.

 

“We knew coming out here that it was definitely the best under-23 team that we’d ever fielded in these championships,” said Irish team manager Ann Keenan-Buckley. “But we knew as well it would be very tough. There were 16 teams out there, up from 11 last year, so definitely the field was stacked. But to win the gold medal, Ireland’s first ever team gold medal in these championships, is fantastic. It’s a serious competition, and these young fellas all worked so hard. To hear Amhrán na bhFiann being played out here, after so long, was great.”

 

Indeed it has been a long time coming: Catherina McKiernan won the senior women’s race in the inaugural championships in Durham in 1994, but since then Ireland have only won two further individual medals (Fionnuala Britton’s under-23 silver in 2006, and Gareth Turnbull’s junior bronze in 1998) and four team medals (the junior men’s bronze in 1999, senior men’s bronze in 2000, senior women’s silver in 2003, and junior men’s silver in 2004).

 

There was very nearly another medal for Britton later on when she finished fourth in the senior women’s race – her brave and superbly determined run leaving her just a stride short of the bronze medal. In fact Britton was given the same time as third-placed Dulce Felix from Portugal, and if that wasn’t sickening enough, second place went to Binnaz Uslu of Turkey, who has just returned from a two-year drugs ban, and controversially beat Britton to that under-23 title in 2006.

 

Britton’s day, if there is any justice in the sport, will come, but for the men’s under-23s the future now looks even brighter. From the gun all six runners put themselves in contention, their intentions and determination absolute. McCarthy had prepared specifically for this race since returning to his US base in Providence, Rhode Island last September, and after a difficult two years, the Waterford athlete re-revealed his considerable talent. He was mixing it in the top five for a long time, and although he admitted afterwards that he was suffering from a stomach complaint since flying in from America last Sunday, that during the race it felt “like a knife cutting right across my middle” he battled on relentlessly.

 

“I came here with high expectation of an individual run,” said McCarthy, “hoping even for a win. But I knew the team was so strong today that no matter how hard I was suffering, these guys would bring me home. And even though I was dying at the end, I looked back and saw every one of my team-mates there, and I just put the head down.”

 

Mulhare, who hails from a family of distance runners in Laois, also paid tribute to the team spirit: “We were all supporting each other out there. We actually said in the middle of the race not to get carried away. So we all worked together fierce well.” And O’Neill reckoned the best of their talents is yet to come. “There were two big hills at the end of each lap, and we knew that was where we needed to hold the line. It’s great to win this medal, but we’re firmly focused on the senior ranks already. That’s where we really want to make the impact.”

 

Indeed it was the team effort that counted: Coghlan (son of Eamonn) finished up in 34th, with Ó Lionáird fading to 76th – and Ó Lionáird was in fact too exhausted to make it onto the medal podium afterwards. O’Neill, who has come through the underage ranks at Dundrum South Dublin, lifted the winning trophy and with that every one of the Irish contingent who had made the trip to Albufeira in Portugal made their voices heard.

 

With 102 runners the men’s under-23 race was arguably the most competitive of the day, with France securing a one-two in Hassan Chahdi and Florian Carvalho. So to win the team title outright goes a long way towards making up for the disappointment of coming away empty handed on home soil in Santry a year ago.

 

It was said the fast and furious racing surface of Albufeira mightn’t suit the Irish, but that didn’t prove true. Britton put herself in the top three of the senior women’s race early on, visibly intent on making it into the medals, and although she moved back into third as late as the last lap, had to be content with fourth – which she actually wasn’t content with at all. Portugal took first and third in Jessica Augusto and Felix, with Uslu claiming silver.

 

“I came out here to get a medal,” said Britton, “and I really believed I would. I’m so disappointed now, because fourth really is the worst position. I knew the Portuguese would come through, and I had to do everything I had before that. When the Turkish girl went by, well, I didn’t expect it to be her. At the end though I was more disgusted I didn’t catch the other Portuguese girl. She was dying, and I was getting her.”  

 

WIDER HORIZONS PROGRAM

If you are interested in becoming a Host Family for the Wider Horizons Program in 2011, please contact Robert Tierney at  rtierney@iiofpitt.org or phone (412) 394-3900.

 

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Our Mission:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Help the Institute:


December 17th

Mullaney's Harp & Fiddle, 2329 Penn Ave., in The Strip, 412-642-6622 features Celtic Rock with Red Hand Paddy at 9:00pm.

 

December 18th

Teada's Irish Christmas in America at 7:30pm at Antonian Hall, Carlow University, 3333 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh (Oakland), PA 15213.  Tickets: $22.00 adult advance, $25.00 day of show, $15.00 Students and Senior (60+). All ages show!  Tickets can be purchased by calling 412-422-1113 in advance or at Antonian Hall evening of the show. 

 

Mullaney's Harp & Fiddle, 2329 Penn Ave., in The Strip, 412-642-6622 features Corned Beef & Curry at 9:00pm.

 

December 23rd

Mullaney's Harp & Fiddle, 2329 Penn Ave., in The Strip, 412-642-6622 presents Tim and John's Christmas Extravaganza.

 

December 26th

Echoes of Erin on WEDO 810AM at 12:30pm; the Ireland Report from Belfast Martin O'Muilleoir, Managing Editor of the Belfast News Grup, & the Irish Echo NY. www.irishecho.com Live Stream- www.wedo810.com

 

December 31st

Mullaney's Harp & Fiddle, 2329 Penn Ave., in The Strip, 412-642-6622 features a 'Rockin' New Year's Eve Party with Red Hand Paddy'.

 

January 7th

Pittsburgh Ceili Club at www.pittsburghceiliclub.org/ is sponsoring their monthly Ceili at the VFW in Morningside on Morningside Ave., "Beginning of the New Year" Ceili at 8:00pm.

 

January 22nd

The All Ireland Athletic Club presents 'Frost on the Shamrock' with Andy Cooney & His Band, East Pittsburgh VFW, 401 Draper Street, East Pittsburgh. Call 412-367-0696 or email allirelandaaevents@comcast.net.

 

January 28-February 4th

Andy Cooney's Cruise of Irish Stars, aboard Costa Atlantica sailing 7-Night Western Caribbean - depart Miami; entertainment with Andy Cooney, Ronan Tynann, Noel V.Ginnity, Cherish the Ladies, Taylor's Irish Cabaret, Paddy Noonan, Declan Aungier, The Screaming Orphans, Pat & Fran Marnane, Noel Kingston, Stephen Green, Bill Lewis, Willie Lynch Band, Tom Comerford and more.  Book with Cruise Specialists of Long Island, 1-800-499-2010, www.cruiseofirishstars.com

 

 


Pittsburgh Irish Dance Schools

 

            Bell School of Irish Dance  http://bellschool.com/about.htm  

 

            Burke Irish Dancers          http://www.burkeirishdance.com/  

 

    Pittsburgh Irish Reelers    http://www.pghirishreelers.com/  

    Shovlin Academy of Dance  http://www.shovlinacademy.com/  

    Pittsburgh Ceili Club        www.pittsburghceiliclub.org/  

 

 

 

Pittsburgh Irish Sports

 

    Pittsburgh Gaelic Athletic Association (PGAA)

- a representative organization of the Pittsburgh Celtics, Pittsburgh Banshees, and Pittsburgh Celtics Youth

Secretary@PittsburghGAA.com 

www.PittsburghGAA.com

 

 

Pittsburgh Hurling Club (PHC)

www.pghhurling.org

 

 

Pittsburgh Irish Rowing Club (PIRC) 

  http://www.pittsburghirishrowingclub.com/  

become a regular at these local programs!

 The Echoes of Erin is marking its 22nd year!  It airs every Sunday afternoon at 12:30-2:00p.m. on WEDO, 810 AM.  Diane Byrnes continues to provide Irish music, news, and other great information from the Emerald Isle.  Keep up the good work, Diane!

 

Paddy's Pour House located on Main Street in Carnegie, PA hosts live entertainment every Friday and Saturday night starting at 9:00 p.m.  Tuesday nights, come for Irish Night: Guinness, Smithwick's, and Half and Half specials 8-12 p.m.  For more information, visit their website or call (412) 279-0770.

 

Catch the Thistle and Shamrock every Sunday evening at 7:00 p.m. on WYEP 91.3FM for Celtic music performances and discussions.

 

We're always looking for events to include: If you'd like to include your next event in this newsletter, please send event information including date, time, location, admission cost, and contact information to info@iiofpitt.org


LOCAL IRISH ENTERTAINERS WEBSITES

Check Performance Schedules, Etc.

Aran from Johnstown PA -              http://www.people.iup.edu/rahkonen/Bands/Aran.htm  George Balderose  -  http://www.pittsburghpiper.com/

Carnival of Souls -  http://www.carnivalofsouls.com

Ceann  -  http://www.ceannmusic.com/  

Cue Ball Music  http://www.cueballmusic.com/index.asp  

Cahal Dunne  -  http://www.cahaldunne.com/

Tony Egan   -  http://www.tonyegan.info  

Michael Gallagher  -  http://www.mike-gallagher.com/

Terry Griffith    http://www.pittsburghirish.org/griffith  

Guaranteed Irish    -  http://www.guaranteedirish.info/

Hiraeth  -  http://lugh.as.cmu.edu/Hiraeth.htm

Hooley  -  http://www.hooley.info

John McCann  -  http://www.johnmccannlive.com/

Corned Beef & Curry - http://www.cornedbeefncurry.com/

Michael Murphy & TSRB  http://www.michaelmurphy.us/

Na Gaels  -  http://www.pittsburghirish.org/nagaels

Jack Puskar  -  http://www.jackpuskar.com  

Red Hand Paddy  -  http://www.redhandpaddy.com/

Rolling Scones  -  http://www.rollingscones.com


IRISH CHRISTMAS IN AMERICA

 


Join us Saturday December 18th, 2010 at 7:30 pm for Teada's Irish Christmas in America!
Antonian Hall, Carlow University
3333 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh (Oakland), PA 15213

Tickets: $22.00 adult advance, $25.00 day of show, $15.00 Students and Senior (60+). All ages show!
Tickets can be purchased by calling 412-422-1113 in advance or at Antonian Hall evening of the show. 
Buy your tickets now and SAVE! Tickets are going fast!
Great gift for the Irish music lover in your life!

Brought to you by The Irish Partnership, 
Carlow University and Radisson Greentree Hotel.


This family-friendly performance features evocatively sung Irish ballads and holiday carols, lively fiddle tunes and thrilling Irish dancing. Narration brings to life ancient customs and stories, while evocative photographic images provide a backdrop of rich historical context. Take a memorable glimpse into the enchanting spirit of Christmas, as some of Ireland's finest traditional artists bring you on a distinctively Irish journey during the holiday season of 2010.

Call 412-422-1113 for more information!

"Captivating" - Irish Music Magazine. "Lively and reflective...a powerful evocation of the season" - Folk Wax. "A celebration of family and good times at the winter season" - Gather.com. "Begley's voice is buoyant...a joy"
- The Irish Times. 

The Ireland Institute of Pittsburgh’s mission is to promote mutual understanding of the Catholic and Protestant traditions in Northern Ireland and economic development throughout all of Ireland. The Institute fulfills its mission by providing quality programs in job training, economic development, leadership development, educational alliances and reconciliation. The Institute is a change-oriented organization that collaborates with industry, educational and government institutions in the development of all programs.


The Ireland Institute relies on its donor and volunteer network to continue its mission of mutual reconciliation and economic development. Your generosity is kindly appreciated.

 

The Ireland Institute is available to accept donations through the United Way. Please remember our code for the United Way Campaign of Southwestern Pennsylvania: 4534. We are also listed as a non-Profit under the Combined Federal Campaign. Our number is: 12438. A third option is to donate through the local Federal campaign. This number is: 9016.

 

If you prefer, a tax-deductible donation can also be made directly to the Ireland Institute of Pittsburgh. The Ireland Institute also appreciates in-kind donations such as event tickets etc. that we can then distribute to our participants.

 

For further information or questions about how you can donate, please contact us at 412-394-3900.

 

 All articles are adapted from www.rte.ie, the Irish Emigrant, the Belfast Telegraph, the Irish Examiner, BBC, and other news sources.